So, as I cast about for things to write about now that the Deep Space Nine reviews aren't around to give this stuff some kind of structure, wouldn't you know it, my sister lend me both DVD collections of Termintor: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which was good in that I was rather keen to watch the whole thing (having frequently missed episodes here and there when was actually on the air) and I was even more grateful when I realised this was a rich vein to mine, as I could turn this into a blog post.
This then, is the resultant post.
Despite the best efforts of people making Terminator movies in this new century (and Kyle Reese inadvertently cock-blocking me that one time, in a story I will never tell you, but invite you to speculate about to your heart's content) I am a fan of the Terminator franchise . . .er, the first couple of movies, anyhow. Then came Terminator 3, which made me sad in that it managed to undo Terminator 2, more or less and did so rather lazily ("Wait at Crystal Peak" was all John Connor had to do? Really? A fucking shut-in with a ham radio could have managed that) and I haven't seen Terminator Salvation yet, because it's buried in my Netflix queue somewhere and Batman leading the war against the machines feels a little like a foregone conclusion, somehow.
So when a TV series was mooted, I was a little skeptical. Oh it could work--a long, open-ended chase structure has worked like gangbusters in the past: The Fugitive and The Incredible Hulk come to mind--but the most recent thing we'd seen from the franchise was Terminator 3 and . . .man, it was just so goddamn disappointing, wasn't it, and one wondered if the people who hold the reins on the Terminator franchise (God knows who they are, given that the rights issues for the Terminator derailed an attempt at a fifth movie recently. For all you or I know, we actually might own the rights for the Terminator franchise right now. We can't know for sure) would put their best foot forward.
Well, fortunately for me, they did. The first season of Terminator (I am not typing out "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" anymore, as that subtitle makes it seem about when she was 12 and vacationed in Nantucket and was all boy-crazy.) is actually pretty awesome, as it keeps the focused energy and stripped-down approach of the first and second movies--the good guys are being chased, and are on the defensive even though the mission statement of the TV show is that they're tired of running. It's a good enough concept . . .
. . .for the small handful of episodes that comprised the first season. It goes a bit like this: Sarah and John are saved by River Tam from Firefly who is a Terminator and has a time machine which allows them to jump from 1999 to 2007 and do what I did--namely, skip the third movie. From there, they decide to focus on eliminating the threat of Skynet rather than just running from the Terminators over and over again, and given how amorphous that threat turns out to be (Skynet is a chess program! No, wait it's this thing!) that's a broad enough goal to hang a TV series on.
The first season is pretty tight and there's not a lot of flab to be had--there's one recurring nemesis in Cromartie, the Terminator who ends up looking a hell of a lot like the guy who shot Wild Bill Hickock, a goal to track down The Turk, a chess program which is fated to become Skynet, and John and River Tam adjusting to life in high school, which River Tam adjusts to about as well as expected.
And then season 2 happens and it all goes a bit wrong. I'd like to think it's a fault of ambition more than anything, as Lost and Battlestar Galactica were busy making named for themselves at the same time Terminator is going on and that made it OK for shows of this genre to have lots of dangling plot threads, incoherent storytelling, and muddled questions with what turn out to be painfully boring answers, and a complete and utter lack of focus from what was pretty damn focused only a season before. And really, something with the name "Terminator" on it, shouldn't feel like it's spinning its wheels this much.
The second season stresses credulity and patience on so many fronts things ultimately break down. For one thing--who in the future doesn't have a fucking time machine? Seriously, half the population of Greater Los Angeles seems to be future refugees or Terminators. Jesse is perhaps the least convincing future solider ever minted, and her plot to keep John away from River Tam with Riley's Boobs (and to a lesser extent, Riley herself--I know this sounds salacious, but honestly . . .her boobs really are everywhere) would have some credibility if 1) we got some sense of the downside of John chilling with River Tam 2) Riley and Jesse weren't both lightweights and 3) It has a resolution that in any way justified the amount of time spent on it (SPOILER: it doesn't)
More than that, there's Sarah going nts and having visions (or maybe she isn't! HOLY SHIT WHAT SYMBOLISM) we've got the T-1000 who runs her own company who's doing . . .something, and for a large part that something seems to be playing with Bionicles and talking about Jesus, and everyone's just kinda hanging out in search of a direction.
And then with about two episodes to go, we get one, and for all the shit I have slung at the second season, I gotta say . . .I really do like the ending, as it manages to be something of a head-fuck, but in such a way that feels like a Terminator head-fuck would be rather than the whole nonsense with the dream sequences and three dots and all we'd slogged through previously.
Despite the wrongness of the second season generally, I found I still liked the show, and decided that the problems with the second season stemmed generally from the fact that they weren't really sure they'd have a second season after the first one, and they'd fallen in with a bad crowd (I very much hope we're done with the BSG era "whatever seems like a good idea at the time run with it and also talk about God some more" style plotting, because I am beyond done with that bullshit) but was a far surer way forward than damn near anything else the Terminator franchise has rolled out here since the second movie . . .